Staunton, August 14 – For many Russians, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s suggestion that Russia should build a number of major new cities in Siberia seemed to come out of nowhere. But in fact, this idea has a long history; and Shoygu’s specific suggestions trace their origin to Joseph Stalin specificially, experts say.
In a survey of their views, URA news agency journalist Yekaterina Lazaryeva quotes Krasnoyarsk expert Vasily Nikulenkov to the effect that Shoygu’s ideas like much of current Russian thinking reflects ideas that surfaced in tsarist and then again in Soviet ones (ura.news/articles/1036282834).
“In the 1920s,” he says, the Angaro-Yenisey problem ‘was elevated to the rank of an all-state task, and in 1932, a special bureau was et up to implement it.” A program was developed by the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences and the Russian Geographic Society, and almost all the necessary theoretical and planning work was completed.
According to another expert, Dmitry Zhuravlyev of the Moscow Institute for Regional Problems, “Shoygu’s idea about the construction of new cities was outlined in the plans of the former head of the USSR Joseph Stalin on how Siberia should be developed.” It was to be based on and link together the Trans-Sib, the partially built BAM, and the planned Northern Broad Route.
The Moscow specialist says that “Stalin wanted that these three roads pass from West to East in parallel and that railways from the southern and southern territories of the country intersect with them.” Within this transportation matrix, Stalin planned for the construction of new cities, exactly the way Shoygu outlined his ideas a week ago.
No new cities were built, and Maksim Zimin, head of the Baikal Regional Foundation for Our Siberia, says he is very skeptical about the possibility they ever will be. He says that Shoygu clearly thinks in terms of the false “stereotype” that the Chinese want to occupy Siberia and Russia must defend against that.
But the Chinese aren’t coming, Zimin says. “That is a political fantasy. The Chinese are leaving northern territories” in their own country and grouping themselves along the coast and in the lower reaches of the Yangtze. To think they are going to come back and populate these cities is nonsense; and to think Russians will go there with no prospects is absurd.
Vladimir Kosoy, president of the Center for Economic Infrastructure, agrees. “In the majority of existing cities with the exception of Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, the population is declining, and hardly anyone will decide to move to new cities.” Improving things in existing cities would be a good idea; building new ones is a bad one.
When the URA journalist sought reaction from Russian officials, they were cautious or did not answer at all, clearly preferring not to put themselves at odds with Shoygu but also unwilling to go on record as favoring his ideas in this regard.
As Lazaryeva points out, present-day Russia has some experience with building completely new cities, Magas in Ingushetia and Innopolis in Tatarstan. But these haven’t been entirely successful, and the success of brand-new cities elsewhere has been mixed with more failures than successes.
And these failures can be enormous and enormously expensive. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the authorities have been working for more than 15 years on a city to be named after the king. It was supposed to become the home of two million people. But the most recent census shows that there are only 7,000 people there.